Friday, April 3, 2020

Friday joy

Thanks for hanging in here with me as we have lingered in chapter eight of Nehemiah and studied the joy of the Lord!

It has taught me a great deal, and inspired me, too, for daily living.

Let's CHOOSE joy!!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The joy of the Lord is our strength, conclusion

One last thing from our focus verses in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah . . . they are both words of encouragement to the people (and to us) and also words of command:
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
In business and self-help culture today, and even in diet regimes, we hear of "do this, don't do that." Or "eat this, not that."
Nehemiah is saying that. "Enjoy and rejoice. Don't grieve."
God wants His people to experience His joy. He wants this to happen. Remember, He is not a grumpy guy that wants us to be miserable. He wants all of us to rejoice in Him personally, so that when we come together, whether in a small group or a large congregation, it overflows to those who are near us. Now please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we should avoid expressing grief when we are mourning or going through difficult trials. It's not any more spiritual or righteous to put on a happy mask and pretend that we are not hurting, than it is to share our feelings so that others can help us. But underneath that grief is God's abiding joy; underneath that sorrow is a confident trust in our Father.
The Bible offers us hope too, in that we can control our thoughts. We are created in the image of God and we are able to make choices. We can choose to stand in the shadows or in the light. We can focus on the things of earth, or on the things "above."  We can dwell on the things that cause us uneasiness and anxiety, or we can dwell on other things:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

In other words, as children of the King we have the choice to rejoice!
When we began this study, we said some things about the lovely characters of the Thousand Acre Wood. We noted that Eeyore was sad and mopey - nothing much could make him change his outlook. We also saw that Pooh was upbeat but kinda clueless. (Grin)
We said that Piglet was small, but full of potential. As are we.
Piglet never lets his fear stop him from doing what he wants to do. He tries incredibly hard to be brave . . . We can too - but not in our own strength:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
Piglet will face danger and only bail when someone "larger" comes to help. Good instructions for us, too:
and call on me in the day of trouble;    I will deliver you, and you will honor me. (Psalm 50:15)
He admits his faults and overlooks those of his friends. Piglet is happy. We should be, too:
Trust in the Lord and do good;    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord,    and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord;    trust in him and he will do this: (Psalm 37:3-5)
There is joy and strength in God Himself, and also in His Word, in His promises to each of us as believers.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The joy of the Lord is our strength

Have you got big muscles?
I don't mean your biceps.
No spinach lectures here. No spoon feeding.
I mean your spiritual muscles!
The joy of the Lord is a source of great strength for believers.
A person who has the joy of the Lord in her heart is strong in the battles of life.

We have strength that the law does not condemn us. What do I mean? Well, God's law as revealed by Moses and prophets brings condemnation. No one could ever hope to live up to it without some failures and bobbles and epic mistakes -- I mean sin. We are all guilty of breaking it. And outside of our Savior, we stand justly condemned.  Does that seem kinda harsh? It may seem that way to us humans. It's the law of a holy God.
For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws;  (Deuteronomy 30:16a)
But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Joshua 22:5)
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. (Romans 2:12)
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:20)
That's why the Jewish people had the system of sacrifice. It was only through blood that they could have remission of sin. Outside of Christ, we stand justly condemned. But there "is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) Now, this does NOT mean that we can live licentiously!
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!  (Romans 6:14-15)
Instead, it means that when we realize how far we fall short of God's righteousness, we take refuge in Jesus' imputed righteousness. As the hymn says, our sins are covered by His blood. The joy of that salvation gives us the strength to stand before God in spite of our many, many shortcomings.

The joy of the Lord also gives us strong spiritual muscles against the attacks of our enemy. Satan is a roaring lion (I Peter 5:8) and an accuser of the saints (Revelation 12:10). If we think for a moment that we can defeat him on our own, the battle is already going his way. We have no hope if we rely solely on our own performance to defend ourselves from his accusations. BUT if we point to the blood of our Savior, we will not only have joy in the battle, but we'll stand firm and we'll ultimately win. Our joy doesn't come from our own level of righteousness (and that ain't much!) but rather from our being in close communion with Christ, and relying on His righteousness, strength, and mercy.

The joy of the Lord also gives us strength because we have God's promises to rely on. This is especially applicable to our world today . . . as Christians, we stake our lives and our eternities on the promises of God. If His Word fails, we are doomed. But then, His Word is NOT going to fail -- and that, dear friends, is a joyous source of spiritual strength for us!
Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (II Peter 1:4)
He promised He would rise the third day.
And He did.
He's promised to come again.
And He will.
The joy of the Lord, found in God Himself, and also found in His Word, is a tremendous source of strength for us in the most trying times! In the trials of life (and of the coronavirus) we can have joy and we can have strength.
Start cultivating those muscles! Let's determine to spend more time in the Word, and more time in prayer . . . it's in knowing God intimately and in immersing ourselves in His Word that we can have joy and strength.
We'll conclude this study tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Prayer requests

Let's pause today and pray for our countries and for the world. Let's ask God in this time of uncertainty and sickness to help us. Throughout the history of the world, during times of deadly epidemics, people have turned to God in prayer for help, protection, and healing.

Just a couple of things to remember as we pray . . .

Let's thank God that He is the Great Physician who not only heals but is with us in our times of need.

Let's ask Him to protect our medical professionals who are courageously treating those who are infected. Let's pray for those who are already infected that they will receive prompt and effective care and be restored to health.

Let's pray for those who are most vulnerable to this disease: the babies, our elders, the poor, and those who are weakened by other health conditions. Let's pray for our leaders as they try to be informed and prepared, and as they make plans to try to mitigate the ravages of the virus.

Let's also pray for those who are trying to develop drugs to heal and vaccines to prevent the spread of the disease.

And let's pray that through this crisis, we will all be drawn closer to Him, we will increase in our compassion for others, and we will reach out in safe ways to help others.

Blessings to all who pause here and pray with us. May we all experience the comfort of His presence and the healing touch of His love.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Of Eeyore, Piglet, and the joy of the Lord

This week, we are continuing our study of the joy of the Lord. We're not talking about always having a smile on our faces. But one can be happy without constantly grinning!
But I don't feel happy, you say?
Do you feel more like our old friend Eeyore?
Ahhh, but I want us to be more like Piglet - he was happy. Shall we say, content? Yus.
In Nehemiah 8, we have two phrases that we're focused on: the joy of the Lord, and the strength that it brings.
Let's dive in again!
Just to refresh our memories, we found last week that repentance leads to joy. It also leads to appreciation of God's forgiveness, and a new level of trust as we experience our relationship with a covenant God, Who is in control of all that is happening.
Today, let's talk about God Himself. Do we find joy in Him? Is He our treasure, our best reason to rejoice?
I guess because we are humans, we tend to find joy in lots of things other than God Himself. We find joy in our health when we have it; we rejoice when we are fit and can compete in a 5K run. We find joy in hiking up a mountain with a friend and not being exhausted at the summit! We find joy in the beautiful view from the top of the mountain. We find joy in a wonderfully prepared meal.
Some of us find joy in our possessions, and as long as we thankfully agree that these good things came from God's hand, that's just fine. And of course, we find joy in our relationships with our loved ones.
But as we grow and mature as believers, we should be growing in the knowledge that God Himself is our chief treasure. We are His and He is ours. If everything else in life were stripped away, would we rejoice in Him alone? If we were imprisoned and tortured for our faith, as many saints are today, would we still rejoice in our God? I guess that is one of those things that is easy to say. But would we really, if the "chips were down"?

I think it's possibly the best way to rejoice in God if we focus on His character. If we think about His attributes -- they are revealed in scripture. Truly knowing God requires us to study Him . . . Satan doesn't want that. He wants us to think of God differently, as he encouraged Eve to do. He twisted her perception of a God Who is good to one that made restrictive laws and didn't tell her the whole story. Today, Satan would like for us to think that God is a grumpy guy who always says "no" when we want to have fun.....a cosmic killjoy Who is happy dancing when we are miserable.
That's not Him.
Remember what David said in Psalm 16:11? Go back and check that, and then come back!
Here's another clue:
"The Lord your God is with you,    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
Now let's look at some of God's attributes - His character traits found in the Word:
The Rock! His work is perfect,For all His ways are just;A God of faithfulness and without injustice,Righteous and upright is He." (Deuteronomy 32:4)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  (I John 1:9) 
For this is what the high and exalted One says—    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:“I live in a high and holy place,    but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly    and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15) 
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (I John 4:8-10)
That's just a quick pull from the Word of God; He is righteous; He is just; He is holy; He is love. These should fill us with joy as we meditate on the verses.
We can also find joy in His actions -- I mean what has been recorded in the Bible and in the history of our faith, as God has moved in the lives of ordinary people and allowed them to serve and perform extraordinary tasks. We can rejoice in the cross of Christ, and how we have grace and salvation. We can rejoice, too, in the privilege of the daily fellowship we know through the Bible and prayer. How it inspires me to rejoice when I think that I can call Him Father; He sees Jesus instead of my sins; and I can come into His presence through Christ!
Especially joyous is the knowledge that this world is not my home -- I'm almost home: in heaven. What makes us want to go to heaven? The main reason is that we will be with God.....we will have communion with Him and we'll enjoy Him for eternity!
The joy of the Lord is especially from knowing God and rejoicing in Him!

I think it's significant that there are three verses where the leaders tell the people to be joyful because "this day is holy to our Lord." Have you ever thought about the fact that holiness and rejoicing are not incompatible? (Grin) Rather, they are linked! The second fruit of the Spirit is joy:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The world may put on quite a show of its enticements. And the scripture tells us there is pleasure in sin "for a season." But God and His Word are our best source of joy!

We'll talk about the strength part of the equation next time!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Friday slowdown - UPDATED

Actually, we've been talking about the joy of the Lord . . . I guess a more appropriate title for today instead of "slowdown," would be "pick me up."

In the past, our Friday posts have sometimes been times of reflection and reverence after a challenging week of study. This week, let's be joyful!


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Is everybody happy?

We are studying the joy of the Lord this week -- we are drawing some parallels between Nehemiah 8 and a character or two from A. A. Milne's Pooh stories. (Yes, seriously.) Piglet may be tiny, just as we may feel tiny in the big world we live in, but he is (as we are) full of potential. He's creative, passionate, loyal, and compassionate; he overcomes his fears and relies on someone much larger (sound like us Christians?) and he is happy.
Now we've gone back to our chapter (Nehemiah 8) and looked more deeply at the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding land. We've seen that the joy of the Lord is a result first of repentance, and the down-deep realization that God, in His mercy, has forgiven us of our sins.
Let's get back to digging here!
Yesterday we discussed a "right" attitude toward sin -- not mourning so much that we slip into depression, and not so casual that we are flippant about failing our Father. We can, however, be certain of His forgiveness, and that is one thing that made the people joyful in our chapter.
They made their plans and they celebrated the great feast that was detailed in God's Word. All of the great feasts in Israel were reminders of God's abundant mercy to His chosen people. In spite of their sin and failures, He extended His hand of mercy to them.
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin;  (Exodus 34:6-7a)
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You. (Psalm 86:5)
The scholars tell us that another Psalm, Psalm 32, was probably written after King David's sin with Bathsheba. In that psalm, he details the blessings that are on the person whom God has forgiven. The psalm ended with a seeming shout of joy!
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones;And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.(Psalm 32:11)
From David's experience and from the words of the psalm, we can tell that he is not talking about sinless perfection. Instead, he is talking about the righteousness that God conveys upon us as repentant believers and our uprightness as we confess and forsake our sins. After we have confessed our sins, we can rejoice that God has forgiven ALL of our sins in Christ Jesus, and that He has pledged His covenant love to us for all eternity.
What do we mean by covenant love?
Covenants are important features of the Bible. Covenants can be based on certain obligations and pre-requisites, or they can have no conditions. They can be between two people, or they can apply to nations and people groups (or everyone in the world). This might even be an interesting study, sometime! Some examples are the covenants that God made with Adam, with Noah, with Abraham, Moses, and David.
A new covenant is mentioned in Jeremiah 31. God promised to forgive sin and have a close and unbroken relationship with people. This covenant was made first to the people of Israel, but then it was expanded to include everyone who comes to Jesus in faith:
28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28)
15 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15)
Truly this is a reason for rejoicing!
So, the joy of the Lord is a result of repentance, a result of truly knowing that God forgives, and a result of trusting in His covenant love.
Want to add a tablespoon more of happiness? (Grin)
If we look back at Nehemiah 8:12, we see another reason why the people rejoiced. It can be a source of joy for us, as well:
All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. (v 12)
The joy of the Lord can come from understanding God's Word.
God's Word is where we find His precious and magnificent promises:
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, (II Peter 1:4)
For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. (II Corinthians 1:20)
It's in the Bible that we find the promise of complete pardon for all of our past sins and failures; we also find the promises of God's presence and His sustaining grace as we move forward in the present. And truly inspiring -- we find the promises of untold joy in eternity with Him!

When we go through rough times; when we are buffeted by Satan, we are sometimes tempted by Satan or our circumstances to begin thinking that God doesn't care for us. It may be that we quit studying the Word because the situation we are in makes it seem that the Bible doesn't apply.
 But it is ESPECIALLY at those times that we need to immerse our hearts and thoughts in God's Word! It will reassure us of His grace and give us a godly perspective on trials -- because it tells of other believers who have endured incredible trials by trusting in Him. In the midst of obstacles, burdens, and temptations, understanding His Word will bring us joy.

I will ask again . . . is everybody happy?